Reviews

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Coraline (2009)

B+ | ***½ | +0| Kids & Up*

With its dark tale of changeling parents and imprisoned souls, Coraline comes closer to the spirit of the traditional European fairy tale than perhaps any other film, animated or otherwise, in recent memory. Read More >

Taken (2008)

C | *** | -2| Adults

Well-crafted but improbable action set pieces cast the 56-year-old Neeson as an essentially indomitable force taking on and prevailing against almost any number of gun-toting assailants — like Jason Bourne, Bryan combines boundless resourcefulness with essentially indomitable physical prowess — but the film’s emotional force rests on the comparatively persuasive setup. Read More >

The Spirit (2008)

F | 0 | -1| Teens & Up

The movie version of The Spirit is a straightforward excursion into the Frank Miller Universe at its most reductionist, self-parodying and content-free. There are no characters or relationships, only placeholders where characters ought to be. There is no drama or conflict, only dueling line readings and cartoony brutality. There is nothing at stake and nothing and no one to care about, only a pointless, shapeless exercise in wildly veering moods and styles. Read More >

The Tale of Despereaux (2008)

B+ | *** | +2| Kids & Up*

Here is a mouse-hero who is truly serious about honor, devotion and courage, in a movie that feels like a storybook rather than an action movie — a movie that, in addition to honor and devotion and courage, is also about longing, imagination, resentment, contrition, forgiveness and redemption. It’s also a trippy movie in which the kingdom of Dor celebrates the annual Soup Day festival like Mardi Gras in New Orleans, rain magically stops falling when the queen dies and a sort of magical food golem helps the royal chef create new soups. Read More >

The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)

C+ | **½ | +0| Teens & Up

I don’t object in principle to Keanu–Klaatu’s message. It’s just not a very interesting or enlightening thing for an ambassador from the universe to say. It’s sort of a letdown, not unlike like having the pope show up at your house only to check the batteries in your smoke detectors. There’s nothing wrong with that. You just hope he has more on his mind. Read More >

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

A- | ***½ | +1| Kids & Up*

More thoughtful and restrained than most sci-fi of the period, The Day the Earth Stood Still has aged better than almost all of its peers. … Decades later, it remains a thought-provoking, worthwhile parable. Read More >

Quantum of Solace (2008)

B- | *** | -1| Adults

Ferocious car chases, rooftop pursuits, brutal combat sequences, elegantly choreographed stunts, a parade of exotic locations… Quantum does all this, with credible panache. Just don’t expect to care like you did in Casino. Read More >

Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa (2008)

D+ | ** | -2| Kids & Up*

Madagascar 2 not only recalls Happy Feet’s satire of religion, it also makes the latter’s coy coming-out subtext look tame compared to its own overt running theme of sexual diversity. Read More >

The Express (2008)

A- | ***½ | +2| Teens & Up

The Express is a rare inspirational sports film that remembers who sports are supposed to inspire: other people. Read More >

The Lucky Ones (2008)

C+ | **½ | +1-2| Adults

After running through some pretty contrived paces for much of its running time, The Lucky Ones has some surprises in the last act that ultimately make it more satisfying than it might have been. Honor, sacrifice, and loyalty do count for something, and tough decisions characters thought they would never make turn out to be thinkable after all. Read More >

Miracle at St. Anna (2008)

B | *** | +2| Teens & Up*

It’s a slightly heavy-handed misstep in a film that runs confidently though unevenly over a mountain of material, stepping right more often than it steps wrong over its 160 minutes. As a contribution and challenge to the World War II genre, Miracle at St. Anna compares reasonably well to most Hollywood efforts. As is often the case, Lee seems to relish biting off more than he can chew, and the ambition and scope of this effort is worth the bits that don’t quite fit. Read More >

Burn After Reading (2008)

C+ | **½ | -2| Adults

Burn After Reading reminds me a little of the Darwin Awards. It’s morbidly absurdist, thoroughly pointless, and can certainly be funny at times, even acutely so, with a freakish bathos that can be hard to look away from. But if you don’t feel a little queasy for laughing, and perhaps you should, you might at least feel bothered that someone wanted to put the whole thing together for your amusement. Read More >

Mr. Bean’s Holiday (2007)

B+ | *** | +1| Kids & Up

Longtime Bean aficionados may find some of the gags familiar from the TV show and the earlier film. Others may feel (what seems plausible to me) that Atkinson has refined his act and given us “Bean’s Greatest Hits” in their ideal form, culminating in a delightful climax approaching feckless transcendence. Read More >

Bee Movie (2008)

C | ** | +0| Kids & Up

As bright-hued as it is dim-witted, Bee Movie is a scattered oddity of a film, combining warm, candy-colored computer-animated visuals, occasionally laugh-out-loud absurdist humor and such profound stupidity about birds and bees — and flowers and trees — that kids watching it will actually lose “facts-of-life” IQ points. Which, for the record, is not a good thing. Read More >

Henry Poole is Here (2008)

C+ | ** | +1| Teens & Up

Like M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs, Henry Poole simply divides the world into two groups of people: those who see signs and miracles, and those who see only coincidence. How either group arrives at or explains particular conclusions, not to mention how people decide which group they belong to in the first place, isn’t explored. We just get Henry with his arms folded defiantly across he chest intoning “Coincidence,” and everyone else serenely shrugging their shoulders saying “Faith.” Read More >

The Terminal (2004)

B- | **½ | +0| Teens & Up

The story wobbles between plotlines and characters that make emotional sense and ones that don’t. And the climax (hastily rewritten and reshot mere weeks before opening day) is pretty much unsalvageable. In Spielberg and Hanks’s professional hands the whole package remains passably entertaining, but much of it doesn’t bear thinking about afterwards — not because the premise is implausible, but because, granted the premise, characters do things that no one would, or should, do under those circumstances. Read More >

Brideshead Revisited (2008)

C- | ** | +1-2| Adults

Yet this Brideshead Revisited ultimately subverts Waugh’s subtlest and most subversive achievement: It offers all the foibles and puzzlement of the Flytes’ religious world, while all but obliterating the threads of grace running through their lives. Read More >

Witness (1985)

A | **** | +2| Teens & Up*

A compelling thriller, a smoldering love story, a thoughtful study in comparative cultures, and a respectful exploration of religious community and nonviolence, Witness is one of the high points of 1980s American cinema, and remains one of Australian director Peter Weir’s best films as well as his first American film. Read More >

The Train (1964)

A | **** | +1| Teens & Up

How do you weigh the cultural heritage of a nation against the value of human life? That’s the subtext of The Train, a wholly persuasive, intelligent thiller crisply directed by John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate) with documentary-like realism and emphasis on action and problem-solving. Read More >

The Wicker Man (2006)

C- | ** | -1| Teens & Up*

What do you get if you take Robin Hardy’s cult classic The Wicker Man, and then take out religion and sex? And folk music? That’s the question writer-director Neil LaBute (Nurse Betty) sets out to answer in his 2006 remake of The Wicker Man. After watching the film, I’m still unsure of the answer. Read More >

The Wicker Man (1973)

B- | *** | +1-2| Adults*

Is The Wicker Man anti-Christian? Anti-pagan? Anti-religion? Where are its sympathies? Does it have any? Like baffled, blustering Sergeant Howie, blundering about the clannish Summerisle community trying to investigate a missing child, we are asking the wrong questions, assuming the wrong rules, wandering ever further off course, walking into a trap. Read More >

The Dark Knight (2008)

A+ | **** | +2-1| Teens & Up*

So deeply does The Dark Knight delve into the darkness that lurks in the hearts of men that it comes almost as a shock, bordering on euphoria, to find that it maintains a tenacious grip onto hope in the human potential for good. Read More >

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)

B | *** | -1| Teens & Up*

Bigger effects and badder creatures make Del Toro’s second take on Hellboy more entertaining than the original, but something’s still missing in the story of the super hero from hell. Read More >

WALL•E (2008)

A | **** | +1| Kids & Up

Even Pixar has never attempted anything on a canvas of this scale. From Monsters, Inc.’s corporate culture to Finding Nemo’s submarine suburbia, previous Pixar films have never strayed too far from the rhythms of real life. … WALL‑E creates a world that, despite clear connections to contemporary culture, looks and feels nothing like life as we know it, with unprecedented dramatic and philosophical scope. Read More >

The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008)

A- | ***½ | +2| Kids & Up

The Spiderwick Chronicles is a smart, scary fantasy family thriller that offers depth and meaning in a genre littered with mere competent entertainment. Where films like Zathura and Night at the Museum offer roller-coaster excitement but little more, The Spiderwick Chronicles is actually about something. Read More >

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (2008)

B | *** | +2| Kids & Up

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl is worth seeing in the company of any American girl young enough to watch a G-rated movie in which the protagonist wants to be a reporter rather than get a makeover, become a pop princess or get the cute boy. If you can get away without shelling out for the matching dress, so much the better. Read More >

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

B- | **½ | +0| Teens & Up

Although most viewers will probably find The Incredible Hulk diverting but — after a strong first act — forgettable entertainment, for Hulk fans smarting from the limitations of the Ang film, it may just be balm for the soul. Read More >

Kung Fu Panda (2008)

B+ | *** | +0| Kids & Up*

The action, though no more realistic than the most cartoony chop-socky movies, is really intense — too intense for sensitive youngsters. For kids up for rolling with the punches, though, Kung Fu Panda may just be DreamWorks Animation’s most entertaining and endearing CGI cartoon to date. Read More >

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

B | *** | +0| Teens & Up

Raiders of the Lost Ark is such a tour de force homage to the serial adventures of yesteryear that viewers who know nothing of those old cliffhangers are swept up in its nostalgia. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull plays to nostalgia for the earlier Indiana Jones films. In that capacity, it delivers more or less what one would expect, disposable popcorn entertainment and a reunion with a few old friends. Enjoy it for what it is, but don’t hope for more. Read More >

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008)

B+ | *** | +1| Kids & Up*

If the first Narnia film got perhaps two-thirds of Lewis’s intended meaning, Caspian is lucky if it gets a quarter. … The upshot is that Caspian is a good-looking fantasy film with some appealing eye candy and comparatively little to do with the book, beyond basic themes of good versus evil and rather generic faith. On that level, if you can put Lewis out of your mind, it’s a pretty good ride. Read More >

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